Tuesday 26 April 2011

The Door into Fire & Clerical Errors

Two books to review quickly today. I didn't have heaps of time to read last week, due to visitors, Easter etc. but these two were light, easy reads that I was able to pick up and put down as and when I had a spare moment.

First up, The Door into Fire by Diane Duane, a fantasy story which is my book four for Carl's Once Upon a Time V challenge.

Herewiss is a prince of the Brightwood, a small part of the Middle Kingdoms. He is the first male in centuries to have the power of the flame, that is, it's within him but he's unable to find a focus to channel the power through and thus, completely unable to use it. His closest friend is Freelorn, who should have taken the throne of Arlen when his father died but had it snatched from him. His life consists of trying to find ways to get his rightful throne back and getting into various scrapes that Herewiss has to rescue him from with the basic magic that he does possess.

Herewiss is en route to another such rescue when he discovers that out in the desert area known as The Waste is a place of immense power with possible doorways into other worlds or dimensions. Herewiss saves a Fire elemental from certain death and together with Freelorn and his companions sets off to investigate this source of power in the hope that it might hold the key to both Herewiss's and Freelorn's problems.

Great fun this one. A book very much in the traditional vein of epic fantasy with plenty of magic, journeying to far lands and war looming; not to mention - naturally - a map at the beginning. (Gotta have me a map!) It's book one of Diane Duane's Tale of the Five series, the author being well known, I believe, for her Star Trek and 'Young Wizard' series. I liked it a lot. The relationship between Herewiss and the elemental, Sunspark, was the most fun as the latter tries to understand the weirdness that is humankind. There is mixed sexuality in this book too, an acceptance of bi-sexuality that might not be to the taste of all - but nothing that's explicit. Overall, a fun read. I own book two as well and will read that as and when. Depending on how I find that one, I may or may not continue on to the end of the series (there are three books.)

Next up, Clerical Errors by D.M. Greenwood - a crime yarn.

A jobless young Australian, Julia Smith, gets a position as a secretary in the cathedral offices in Medewich in East Anglia. She's not terribly well qualified and is, quite frankly, daunted by most of the staff, expecially one Canon Wheeler who is arrogant and a bully. Her first day could hardly have a worse start when she is second on the scene after the decapitated head of a local vicar, Paul Gray, is found in the cathedral by a cleaner.

Julia is taken under the wing of Deaconess Theodora Braithwaite and administrator, Ian Caretaker and together they try to solve the mystery. It seems secrets are everywhere and the police have come up against the wall of silence that is the Anglican church protecting its own. Canon Wheeler is a constant bullying presence but what kind of mysterious shenanigans was Paul Gray mixed up in? What is the significance of the stolen church candles? When a second murder occurs things become very dangerous for the group of friends and it's a race against time to solve the crime before one of them is killed.

This is the first book in the Theodora Braithwaite series of books by D.M. Greenwood. She's a little known author from East Anglia who wrote nine books in this series between 1991 and 1999 and nothing else. Apparently she did actually work in the diocese of Rochester so knows her stuff and it shows. Attention to detail is very precise and I learnt a fair bit about the workings of the church. I liked the way in which she depicted the clergy as every bit as full of failings as the rest of us and intransigence a way of life for many of them. At first this book seems as though it might be a cosy mystery but in reality it's not at all. The setting is rather lovely but there are dark doings, nastiness and spite and it makes for quite compulsive reading.

I first read about this series on Geranium Cat's blog. I'm not churchy at all but I do enjoy the odd ecclesiastical mystery so reserved it from my library. Annoyingly they don't have book two in the series so I will probably download it onto my Kindle to read at some stage. A promising series.


Tuesday 19 April 2011

Lost in a Good Book

Today's my last free day for several days as we have family visiting until Saturday. Luckily I finished my latest book just at the right time to review it today, before I disappear!

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde is my book three for Carl's Once Upon a Time V challenge. My daughter very kindly grabbed it for me from the city library in Exeter and I decided to read it quickly so that it can go back and free up the space on her ticket. (Her and her husand, and our grand-daughter for that matter, always max out their library cards with books and then share them as they all, mostly, read the same thing.) Anyhoo, like I said, this my book three for the challenge and so far I'm quite pleased with the way it's going. Two of the books were off the tbr pool I put aside - and one from the library.

Thursday Next, SpecOps agent for LiteraTec, is now very happily married to Landen Parke-Laine. Or at least she has been. Thursday was responsible for putting the evil Jack Schitt, from the Goliath corporation, into The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe and leaving him there as punishment after the events of The Eyre Affair. Now the corporation, in the shape of Jack's brother, want him back. In order to do this they've 'eradicated' Landen and won't return him unless Thursday does what they want. History has been altered and Landen actually died when he was two in a drowning accident, whereas in reality he was saved by his father. But the portal book invented by her uncle has been destroyed and her uncle has retired so the way into books is no longer clear to Thursday.

And that's not the only problem Thursday has. Her father (a sort of time-travelling agent) visits her and tells her the world is going to end in two weeks and it's up to her to save it. Someone is out to kill her and that person's methods smack of Acheron Hades... but he's dead... isn't he? The people she works for even seem to have it in for her, despite her defeat of Hades. And worst of all she's now a celebrity and expected to do PR in the form of chat shows and public appearances.

Landen's eradication is her main priority though. Thursday's search takes her to a library - the biggest she has ever seen. It contains all the books ever written and all of those that will be written. And there she meets The Cheshire Cat who runs the library, and a group of special agents from books whose task it is to police the book world. Thursday finds herself apprenticed to Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations, not the frail old lady of the book but an old lady who likes fast cars and drives them like a crazy woman. Will Thursday be able to learn to book hop quickly enough to save Landen, before the world ends or before whoever is after her kills her?

Difficult to explain the plot of this one to be honest. So much going on and so many plot twists and turns. And I'm a bit hopeless at following time travel plots anyway. Regardless of all that, Lost in a Good Book is a worthy sequel to The Eyre Affair. To be honest, I think I liked it even more.

My favourite character was definitely Miss Havisham who went around in her wedding dress... and trainers... hates men, naturally, and loves fast cars. The world she inhabits is a fascinating one. The library is *huge* and made me drool quite frankly - it has to go down as one of the all-time amazing literary libraries!

There's much that's quirky and inventive about these books. A method of travel that takes you right through the centre of the earth. Mammoths brought back from extinction and trampling people's gardens on their annual migration through Swindon. Neanderthals also brought back from extinction, to do menial tasks, but feeling undervalued and looking for equality. A Kafka-like trial which made me realise that I don't want to read Kafka! LOL. I could go on and on... The books are pacey, unpredictable, funny, clever - unique in my opinion. A book lover's joy if you enjoy a bit of craziness. Not for everyone, but certainly for me.


Saturday 16 April 2011

Library Loot!

Time for another Library Loot post as I haven't done one for a couple of weeks.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire at The Captive Reader and Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

And here is my present bookish loot:

From the bottom:

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde. I wasn't going to pick up book two in Fforde's Thursday Next series so soon. Especially as I would have to reserve it. But my daughter was heading into Exeter city library yesterday while Hubby and I took the grandkids to the seaside, and she very kindly offered to pick their copy up for me. In exchange I grabbed the latest Maisie Dobbs for her from Teignmouth library. Works for me. :-)

A Single Swallow by Horatio Clare. This is a non-fiction which charts the swallows' journey the entire length of Africa. I saw it in Waterstones last year, wanted it, but decided to be good and wait for the library to get it. Which they now have.

The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen. Book 3 in the Rizzoli and Isles crime series that I'm currently hooked on.

Library Confidential by Don Borchert. Life in the stacks.

Clerical Errors by D.M. Greenwood. The first in the Theodora Braithwaite ecclesiastical crime series. I saw this blogged about somewhere but can't now remember where... apologies.

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt. Victorian society fantasy. Dickensian apparently. Excited about this one and will be reading it for the Once Upon a Time challenge... after Easter, when things quieten down a bit.

Dhampir by Barb and J.C. Hendee. I saw this one blogged about on Animewookie's new book blog, My Gallery of Worlds, and thought it sounded quite good and would also do for the Once Upon a Time challenge.

So those are the seven books I have from the library at the moment. And only one on reserve, Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin, which I'll be reading for the Foodie challenge when it comes.


Thursday 14 April 2011

Thyme Out

I'm quite pleased at the way my Foodie book challenge is going. I think I'm enjoying this slightly unusual challenge so much because you can read non-fiction or fiction as long as food is a major theme of the book. The Foodie challenge is being hosted by Margot at Joyfully Retired and runs all year. There are different levels of reading and I'm doing 'Bon Vivant' which is to read 4 to 6 books. Thyme Out by Katie Fforde is my book 3 so I'm about halfway through now, though I suspect I may end up reading more than 6.

Perdita Dylan is 29 years old, divorced for 10 years and running her own business. She grows and supplies unusual salad ingredients to local businesses - hotels, health spas - on land lent to her by her closest friend, Kitty. Kitty is 87 years old and practically brought Perdita up. Her parents were of the absent variety, always away on some trekking project or other, so Kitty has always been like a mother to Perdita and the two now live very happily as neighbours.

One morning, Perdita delivers the usual order of salad leaves to a local hotel and, to her horror, discovers that the chef has left and been replaced by her ex-husband, Lucas. The last she'd heard of him he was still 'something in the city' and she assumed he was still with the older woman he'd left her for, not cheffing in her neck of the woods. It has taken Perdita years to recover from the break-up and she is not happy in the slightest to see him.

The situation is not helped by the fact that Lucas has clearly turned into the chef from hell. He's demanding and truculent with his staff, and treats Perdita in the same manner. Perdita is furious at this turn her life has taken. She is not well off and has to work long hours for what little she does have, but at least she was content and happy growing her veg. Now things are complicated and difficult decisions have to be made. Is she really prepared to let Lucas inveigle her into making a TV cookery show with him?

Things come to a head when Kitty suffers a stroke. Roger, a long-lost relative of Kitty's turns up. At first he seems nice and it looks like he's there to help but slowly Perdita starts to suspect his motives. Who can she turn to for help as Kitty's situation worsens? The answer is obvious but unwelcome to Perdita as she's been trying to ignore her growing attraction for her ex-husband. There is no way she will allow him hurt her like he did before.

I suppose many would call Katie Fforde's books 'light, enjoyable reads' which, in some respects, they certainly are. The romantic aspect of this book is fun and 'funny' as we watch Perdita struggle with this ridiculous situation and try to keep everything together. It's clear she's kidding herself about her real feelings but on the other hand the reader feels for her because Lucas is actually a bit of a pig and, truthfully, you really don't know what to think about him as you read on.

The other side of the coin here is the sad situation with Perdita's friend, Kitty. It felt strange for me actually, because Kitty is so like my late mother-in-law in her quirkiness and obsession with gardening, that it was uncanny. Plus, the same thing happened to her in that she also had a stroke. So I could identify completely with the situation in the book. Kitty has always been there for Perdita and now it's the other way round - Perdita is the carer and has no idea what the future will hold. The uncertainty is no joke and forms the very real backdrop to what is, to all intents and purposes, a romance book. It makes it real and relevant but the book is never maudlin or depressing. Kitty's influence in her life is celebrated by Perdita; it's hard but she feels lucky to have had this wonderful woman in her life, and that was exactly the way I felt about my mother-in-law.

Being both a cook and, to a lesser extent, a gardener, I loved those elements of the story. Perdita can grow anything but can't cook to save her life. Thus, certain situations she finds herself in are hilarious - even if they are her own fault. And hearing about what goes on in a fine dining kitchen and also how a TV cookery show is put together made the book even more interesting for me.

I actually haven't read that many books by Katie Fforde... a couple I think... but they're always enjoyable. I don't remember the others being quite this thought provoking but that may be because I didn't identify with them quite as strongly as I did this one. I will certainly read more, as and when I see them in the library.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

The Eyre Affair

I'm a bit behind with book reviews at the moment, three and a half books read so far this month and not one of them reviewed. I have a feeling some will just get a mention on my end of the month post. I'll make a start with this one anyway - The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is my second book for Carl's Once Upon a Time V challenge.

Thursday Next is an agent with SpecOps who police the 1985 she lives in. In this reality the Crimean war is still ongoing, Wales is a communist republic and more or less a closed country, and one of the most popular pastimes is reading. Thursday hails from Swindon, here in the UK, but lives and works in London. She lost a brother in the Crimea and fought there herself, her brother's death being the source of a huge controversy connected with The Charge of the Light Brigade.

The story begins when the original manuscript of Charles Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit is mysteriously stolen from a museum. The box it was contained in is untouched and the thief does not appear on the CCTV tape. It appears this is the work of arch-criminal, Acheron Hades, and Thursday is recruited by another SpecOps department to help catch him. In a botched attempt her new partner is killed and Thursday badly injured; it seems Hades is a completely unprincipled scoundrel, going so far as to even kill his own brother in an effort not to be caught.

Thursday returns to Swindon but the Hades problem will not go away: Hades has noticed her and the next thing he does is to kidnap her uncle Mycroft who is a bit of a mad professor type. He's invented a book that can be used to enter the world of books, and Hades puts Mycroft's wife into a Wordsworth poem to make Mycroft do his bidding. 'His bidding' involves interfering in the ending of Jane Eyre for monetary gain; in this reality that book has a different conclusion to the one we're used to. It seems that the only one really capable of stopping this villainy is Thursday Next but how is this possible when Hades is always one step ahead and completely ruthless to boot?

Lots of people love this series so I was expecting a fun read and I got one. The cleverness displayed by the author reminds me a little bit of Terry Pratchett but in reality this story was not much like anything I've ever read before. Favourite bits were things such as the Will-speak machine where you put a coin in and got a Shakespeare quote; the John Milton convention going on at the hotel where everyone came dressed as the author and had changed their name to... John Milton; and a scene where a 'Baconian' knocks on the door and tries to persuade Thursday that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays... in the manner of a Jehovah's Witness trying to convert you on the doorstep. Beautifully done and very funny.

I love the idea of a world where books are the thing and not TV (although TV does exist). Where everyone has read classic literature and not only thinks nothing of it but has an opinion and knows all the charcters in minute detail. Where absolutely everyone has read Jane Eyre and loathes the (wrong) ending. And where the stealing of an original manuscript is a catastrophe of earth-shattering proportions.

It helps to have some knowledge of Jane Eyre to read this book but it's not strictly necessary. To be honest, this book makes me want to reread it as I last read it as a teen, although I have seen several execellent dramatisations since. I think I liked the Mr. Rochester in this book better than I liked the 'real' one!

I'm now wondering what the other books in this series hold - which books are involved, what happens to Thursday, and whether or not more of Mycroft's wonderful inventions are instrumental in the plot. I've just checked and the next book is Lost in a Good Book and seems to involve Neanderthals, Just William and Flopsy Bunnies. Sounds great and I shall be checking to see if my library has it tomorrow. I really need another new series...


Saturday 9 April 2011

Cornish coast photos

Last week saw myself and my husband down in Cornwall for a short break. We actually stayed in a generic hotel at Bodmin which is smack bang in the middle of the county and an excellent location for visiting the north Cornish coast. On our first full day, Monday, we struck lucky. In Bodmin it was a dull, overcast, dreary day but when we reached the coast it was glorious and stayed like it all day. First stop was the coast around Bedruthan Steps. I don't have a head for heights so we didn't go down to the beach, but had a walk along the cliffs there instead, an area the National Trust own and call 'Carnewas'.

The gorse everywhere was stunning.

By the time we'd wandered a mile or two, ooohed and ahhhed over the views, stopped for a cuppa at the little NT café, wandered a bit more the other way, ooohed and ahhhed some more - that took up most of the morning. We moved on up the coast after that and stopped at Constantine Bay. Not a bay we know well, although that area around Padstow is reasonably familiar as we used to pop down regularly when we lived in Barnstaple. We popped into the small village shop where they had homemade pasties for sale, grabbed one each and took them down to the bay for a picnic lunch. The day was chilly and blowy but very sunny so it really was gorgeous sitting on the rocks enjoying excellent pasties and looking out to sea.

Parts of the beach were rock-pool heaven for kids and we said we'd have to take the grandkids there in the summer.

This chap was trying to land his wind-surfing parachute thingy and it was quite the entertainment watching him make the attempt... at least half a dozen times.

Well, that's the first batch - I have two more lots to post, of Lanhydrock, the National Trust property near Bodmin, and of the coast around Tintagel. We packed quite a lot into three days!

Saturday 2 April 2011

March books

Off to Cornwall tomorrow until Wednesday but before I tootle off I'll do a quick run-down of what I read during March. It was a good month, all in all, eight books read... that sounds rather good for me but none of them were particularly long or difficult reads. Here we go then (I'll number them according to how many I've read this year):

13. The Surgeon - Tess Gerritsen
14. Gossip from Thrush Green - Miss Read
15. The Tapestry of Love - Rosy Thornton
16. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive - Alexander McCall Smith
17. Requiem for a Mezzo - Carola Dunn
18. Garlic and Sappires - Ruth Reichl
19. Beauty - Robin McKinley
20. Diavolino - Steve Emmett

All eight were excellent reads - no duffers, as I call them. A bit of a mixed bag too. One non-fiction, three crime, a fantasy for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge, a horror, and a couple of what you might call modern fiction I suppose. I read my first Kindle book and loved using it, so that, for me, was quite momentous (I'm easily pleased).

Next month I really want to get stuck in to Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge... my pile of books for that is calling to me and, in fact, I've started another, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. I also have another Kindle book sent to me by an author to read - Dreaming, Not Sleeping by Julia Kavan. Looking forward to that.

I'm assuming I'll come back from Cornwall with books, or maybe I'll be able to resist? Or maybe not... (I can hear Deslily laughing hysterically from here.) I should come back with photos although the weather forecast doesn't look too promising. Was hoping to bore you all with photos of my beloved Cornwall's coastline and will certainly do my best to fulfill that threat... er... promise.

Happy Reading while I'm away.